Starring: Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Marion Cotillard
Genre: Drama/ Thriller/ Crime
Chris (Owen) and his younger brother Frank (Crudup) have always been very different, and when Chris is released from prison in 1974 after serving a nine year sentence for murder Frank is a celebrated cop. Frank manages to get Chris a job and somewhere to live, and Chris tries to live a clean life but struggles to avoid the temptation of making a lot of money very quickly. Meanwhile Frank begins a relationship with his ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Zoe Saldana) who is married to Anthony (Matthias Schoenaerts), who Frank has recently been put in prison after being arrested by Frank. The two brothers have never really got on well, and Frank decides once again that he wants nothing to do with Chris. However as the lives of Chris and Frank seem to continuously intertwine with Chris getting more deeply involved in gangland Brooklyn while Frank getting more and more disillusioned with life as a cop, it is always the tie of blood that is the strongest.
If that synopsis does not make Blood Ties sound particularly original then the fact it is based on a book, a remake of a French film and is co-written by James Gray, who of course wrote and directed the very similar (at least in central premise) We Own the Night. It doesn’t stop there; Canet seems very happy to rip off plenty of 1970s crime dramas too. I am not going to list them, but they are all pretty obvious when watching Blood Ties, and it does seem that Canet is more than happy to not even make an attempt to hide the fact the fact he is making homage to such films. Also, it is still a better film than We Own the Night though.
However, if you are going to lack originality, then at least do it well and Blood Ties is a very competently made with the cinematography, set design (particularly the wall paper), fashion sense and haircuts feeling very much of the time. Admittedly it feels more like a TV drama than particularly cinematic, but as a character driven drama it is never less than watchable. The running time of 130 minutes may seem off putting, but it does admittedly let the abundance of characters (all played by big names) that are key parts of the lives of Chris and Frank develop quite nicely in what is quite a slow burner of a film.
The narrative may seem a little generic and predictable, and its characters all walking clichés, but the superb performances elevate the characters above the slightly contrived script. The always watchable Clive Owen is a magnetic screen presence as Chris, while Billy Crudup captures the conflicted intensity of Frank perfectly. Mila Kunis admittedly is given very little to do as Chris’ girlfriend, but Zoe Saldana, James Caan, Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts are all excellent in their key roles.
Patience is most definitely a virtue, especially when watching Blood Ties, as the slow burn pace of the quite contrived first two thirds and the fact it does sometimes require an element of effort is amply rewarded by a surprisingly rewarding conclusion. Though it still doesn’t wholly avoid the clichés it is happy to embrace throughout the narrative, it is still a gripping and very satisfying conclusion that most certainly justifies the investment of over two hours watching it. Though admittedly there is very little about Blood Ties that will last long in the memory.
Generic in both plot and style, Blood Ties will never win any prizes for originality, nor unfortunately does hardly ever attempt to. However, excellent performances from the big name cast and a very satisfying final third make sure it is still a very watchable, if slightly forgettable, drama.